My father passed away on January 2nd of this year. I’ve had several posts in mind but haven’t had the energy to put them down. This is the eulogy I read at his service. Maybe this will help me sleep a little better until I can get something better down.
My parents visited the Vatican last year. I have no proof of this but I think there was motivation behind the trip. I think it was a job interview. If it was… he got the position. The new VP of marketing for the rebranded Pearly Gates… and Gardens. He’s probably already had turnstiles installed and is calling each evening for the days attendance.
My father was born into a farming family in rural Nebraska and spent his first 12 years there until my grandmother moved him and my Aunt Suzanne to her hometown of Savannah after their father passed. In 2012 my wife, son and I along with Donna and my Uncle Doug had the privilege of joining my Dad and Aunt on a return visit to Nebraska. This was the first time they had been back since they were children. On that trip I watched my dad explore where he came from. Miles and miles of perpendicular roads with hardly another human in sight.
My father never budged at a challenge. You can’t just call it work ethic because it’s how he lived his life. From grade school to fatherhood, whenever I talked with him about a struggle he would guide me and help me figure out how to get through it. Often we would walk away with an inside joke about the event that we would share and laugh about for years later. Even after being told he had cancer he never complained or fussed about the card he was handed. It was after I saw that farm and imagined what his life was like there in Nebraska that I was able to start putting the pieces of his character together. Farmers work in harsh environments. They create things from barely nothing and work with the resources they have at hand. They start with a seed. I have many brothers and sisters here in Tampa that got their professional start through my dad. We were all his seeds…. And all of you became family. From Busch Gardens and Adventure Island and Sea World to most recently the Florida Aquarium. You took all of us into your family as much as my dad brought you into his. Thank you all for everything you did for us over the years. I’ve joked before that Ericka and I grew up in a theme park. That makes many of your our baby sitters.
I’ve taken many vacations to his second hometown of Savannah. My family and I were there just this weekend. Savannah is a social town. Especially when you are a descendant. It is a Catholic town where everyone knows each other, looks out for one another and barter with what they have. Your character is as much your currency is as what you have to offer. Add these skills to the work ethic my father learned from the farm and you are starting to get a better picture. He was always looking out for his Tampa, his Florida and all of us here. And he was never without a free ticket. When he’d give out a few to a family… if asked he’d simply say he worked at The Aquarium. Or Busch Gardens. Or Adventure Island. Or Sea World.
My father was humble. He was honest. He worked hard and taught me that work is not work when you love it. These are the things I will pass on to my son.
I know I’m not alone in saying that since being told of my father’s diagnosis… today, this service and the idea of his passing have been on my mind and in my heart constantly. I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would take me a few seconds to remember why I felt so horrible. The feeling would be there before I could remember why. But one night I fell asleep and had a dream about this day. I was here at his service. We all were. We were all here to celebrate my father’s life and accomplishments. But in my dream he was here at the altar too. He was loving you guys. All of his people. Many of you… his seeds. When I awoke from that dream knowing he was happy… I felt at peace. And finally slept.
I now know why I had that dream. Because he is here. I think one of his other initiatives at the newly rebranded Pearly Gates and Gardens is a hand stamp program for return visits back to see us and check on us. And this is exactly the kind of inside joke my father and I would have shared. And now it’s one I hope to forever share with my son. Going forward, whenever he feels like someone has been looking out. Whenever he feels that someone has his back… I’ll suggest it was his Papa…. and that he must have gotten his hand stamped.